Soren Kiekergaard’s Fear and Trembling instills a sense of curiosity and confusion in me. I find most readers share this opinion, as the text takes many different directions. Kierkegaard chose to focus his text on the Abraham and Isaac story, a tale of a father who is instructed by the ‘God’ figure to sacrifice his son. There can be found many interpretations as to the reasons behind why God asked Abraham to sacrifice his kin but I want to offer my ideas. I’ve been thinking a lot about the ‘why’ behind both God’s and Abraham’s actions.
Though it is never stated in Genesis that God is omniscient, there are indications of Him possessing advanced knowledge. He is understood as a powerful being, having created plants, animals, man, etc. Readers aren’t given much sense of God’s character. His emotions, thoughts, and interior workings, if He even possesses these qualities, aren’t expressed in Genesis, which leads a reader to question the purpose and motives of the God figure in Genesis. When Kierkegaard poses the controversial and unsettling question of why God told the human He created to commit murder, we grapple with a satisfactory answer. I’ve been playing with the idea that maybe God wanted to set the example that He should be honoured, revered and respected above all else including the ethical responsibility to family. I’m sure we all shudder at the notion of asking one to commit murder to prove that another human is of less importance than the divine. It’s an idea I find unnerving but also interesting. From the text of Genesis, we know God has some form of knowledge that is beyond comprehension; he seems to know things he shouldn’t or would have no way of knowing. Therefore, we can assume, based strictly from what I’m extracting from the text, that He is above humans. His level of intelligence and superiority is above mankind. After all, he did create the human race. He came first and has reign over his creation of the human race. If we assume this, could it be likely that He wanted Abraham to demonstrate his utter obedience and trust to God? Abraham did not commit murder. He was instructed to do so, but God stopped him before the deed was committed. Maybe the reason Abraham acquiesced was due to his devotion to God. On page 95 of Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard says that, “faith is a passion.” I personally agree with this statement and see this reflected in Abraham’s actions. I believe he obeys God because the awe and fear of God is so ingrained within him that he can’t imagine saying no to God. Kierkegaard touches on this on page 58 of Fear and Trembling in reference to Abraham, “‘his greatness was that he so loved God that he was willing to offer him the best he had.’” Maybe that dominion over man is what God wanted to put through its paces. The idea of God experimenting and testing His creation is an interesting idea to scrutinize. Potentially in the Abraham story this experimentation and questioning of the abilities of man plays out.
I think a large part of understanding the Abraham and Isaac story is to first understand the character of God as He holds such a critical role. I present the question for further exploration, is it possible that God never intended for Abraham to kill Isaac, and instead wanted to use the relationship of father and son to test the spiritual tenacity of mankind?